As a adult with a peanut allergy daily life and simple activities present many challenges and I am happy to share the rules I follow to best avoid peanuts and allergic reactions. I was born in 1981 and growing up there was literally zero awareness about food and peanut allergies. I have been bullied, made to feel ashamed, and treated like I was crazy due to my serious peanut allergy. If I mentioned my allergy to friends, or even to friend's parents, I was met with confused looks. The concept of a peanut free classroom, airplane, workspace etc. was absolutely unheard of. No one understood what I meant when I explained my allergy to peanuts, and how serious and life threatening the allergic reaction to peanuts is. Most were under the opinion that I just needed to not 'eat any peanuts' and I would be just fine; they did not understand the concept of cross-contamination, or that even the particles being airborne can cause a serious reaction. When I got into my teen years and started to carry a EpiPen everyone thought, 'whats the big deal? Just use your EpiPen', as if it was some sort of magic wand. I did not even know anyone else with a peanut allergy until I was in my late twenties and my co-worker brought Thai food for everyone, when I mentioned that I could not eat the Thai food he brought due to my peanut allergy told me he has a friend with a peanut allergy and understood how serious it is. That was the first time someone I knew understood the seriousness of my allergy and had knowledge of peanut allergies.
I have developed many tips on how I stay safe that over the years and am happy to share some of them here. I will add to my list when I think of more tips. Many things I am realizing are second nature to me now.
Always call a restaurant/bar etc. before you go and ask if they, ‘have any peanuts or peanut oil in their kitchen or in their restaurant’. If they say they do, no matter weather peanuts are in a milkshake, desert, salad, in a beer, it does not matter, if peanuts are present at all in any form I do not eat there, or even enter the restaurant. I have had allergic anaphylactic reactions while at a restaurant due to cross contamination; this means that although the food that I ordered was free of peanuts, peanuts still ended up in my meal because something else in the kitchen contained peanuts. I have also had allergic reactions because peanuts were in the space because the food being cooked contained peanuts. I was enjoying a drink and did not have anything to eat, but just by breathing in the peanuts in the air I had an allergic anaphylactic reaction. My rule is you can never be too careful!
When you are going to a home call ahead of time and inform your host that you have a serious allergy. Make sure that if they have peanuts, or what you are allergic too, in their home that they put that away before you arrive. If there are any areas of the home where there were peanuts, I make sure to avoid those spaces so that there is no risk of exposure to peanuts based on trace amounts being still there.
Remind a friend of your allergy every time! This is very important. When I visit a friends house I make sure to remind them of my peanut allergy every time I go. I have forgotten to do this and arrived at their home only to see peanuts out to snack on, and I will have to leave the gathering. I will not risk breathing in the peanut protein, or touching something that came in contact with the peanuts and having a reaction. Even though I am not eating any peanuts you can still have a reaction just being around them due to peanut protein being airborne.
Always bring your own food, or eat before/after an event. Depending on where you are going, and how comfortable you are in the space, I usually eat after an event. If I am going to a friend’s get together then I bring my own food, and I eat out of the containers I brought and with my own cutlery. I recently attend a reception for an art show I was part of and even though they served hors d'oeuvres I made sure to not touch any of the food and did not have a drink as well. After the event I met friends at a local restaurant that I know is peanut free and enjoyed a meal that I knew was safe.
Always always always bring two epinephrine auto injectors. I carry two AUVI-Q® (epinephrine injection) with me, along with my inhaler. Whether I am going to run errands, attend a concert, or to a friend’s home, it doesn’t matter. I always have those items on me in case of an allergic anaphylactic reaction.
Tell those who you are with about your allergy. I make a point of sharing my allergy with whomever I am going out with so that if I have an allergic reaction they know what to do, and what is going on. Make sure to tell them that you carry epinephrine auto injectors and what your plan is if you have a allergic reaction.
Only eat foods and use products that you know are both peanut free & are made in a peanut free facility. FDA regulations only require that food companies declare all 8 major US food allergens on their packaging if one of those items is present in the ingredients. The FDA does NOT require companies to list if a food or product is produced in a facility that also processes peanuts. What makes matters more confusing is companies sometimes voluntarily list cross contact risks, but most labels have no such statement. It is incredibly helpful when you see the 'may contain' warning because then you know without having to reach out to a brand, or check my lists :) if a item is safe. Just because there is no cross contamination warning does not mean the item is safe to have. I had an anaphylactic reaction one day after cooking salmon with rice. I could not figure out what I had eaten that had peanuts in it. After doing much research into everything I eat at that meal, from looking into the dried basil, to the jasmine rice, I found out that the olive oil that I used was processed in a facility with peanuts! So, I reacted due to cross contamination. The olive oil bottle did not have a 'may contain' statement, so I had no way of knowing the serious risk I was taking. I started looking into every single food and product I had in my kitchen to see what was truly safe and peanut free. I then created the No Peanut Foods site because I could not find any lists of safe products that also checked for any cross contamination risk and I wanted to share what I learned. You can check out my lists of foods and products that are peanut free and made in peanut free facilities here. I update my lists almost daily with safe, and not safe foods and products.
When in doubt due without. If you are not sure that something is safe then you do not have it, period, it is never worth the risk.
Extra tips for Valentine's Day:
Always speak up about your allergy. Do not be afraid to tell your friends, or date, about what you are allergic too. Anyone who truly cares for you will understand and would never make you feel uncomfortable. This is actually how I know I have a true friend, and someone who cares about me, when they make me feel safe & understand the seriousness of my peanut allergy.
Tell whomever you’re with about your allergy and let them know where you keep your 2 auto injectors. It is always best to be prepared in case of a emergency so if you have a reaction the person you are with will know what to do.
For the little ones going to school make sure they know to not eat, or touch anything including candy, sweet, baked goods etc. that you have not packed in their lunch. I learned the hard way in 2nd grade when I volunteered to pass out peanut butter cookies at snack time that even touching peanuts, and breathing in the cookie's smell would cause a serious reaction. I broke out in hives and had a hard time breathing, it was incredibly scary. I knew not to eat the cookies because they contained peanut butter, but I did not realize that touching the cookies, and being so close to them, would also cause a serious reaction.
Skip the traditional dinner and try out an activity unrelated to food, the most important thing is to stay safe.
And... Remember for safe foods, foods free of peanuts and made in peanut free facilities so there is no cross-contamination risk, check out my lists on No Peanut Foods